Golden Week in Japan is a group of national holidays all falling around the first week of May, making the longest holiday period for schools and workers. In 2019, GW will be even longer than usual: a total of 10 consecutive days! This is because one extra holiday has been declared for the enthronement of a new emperor (新天皇即位日、shin-ten’nō sokui hi) on May 1. Additionally, a bonus celebratory holiday on October 22 (即位礼正殿の儀、sokui rei seiden no gi) was added, both only for this year.
Golden Week Dates 2019
When including the weekends, GW 2019 will be from April 27 to May 6. The addition of the May 1 holiday automatically makes the 2 days before and after holidays too, because of a rule correctly assuming that no one wants to work on a day sandwiched in between two days off. There is no need to use your paid leave allowance this year to enjoy the long time off. Hooray!
See our previous article to learn more about each individual holiday.
Why is GW so long this year?
The reason for the season is the current emperor Akihito’s abdication to his eldest son, Naruhito. This will be the first time for a Japanese ruler to give up the throne in about 200 years, since normally ascension happens only when the emperor passes away.
Along with the change in emperor, the Japanese calendar year will start again from year 1. 2019 is Heisei 31 in the Japanese calendar, and the new era name will be announced April 1. It has been the Heisei era since 1989, which is both Showa 64 and Heisei 1, starting from the day the current emperor took over that year. Keep this in mind when writing your rirekisho using the Japanese style for dates!
Is Golden Week a good time to travel?
So, what to do with the extra long holiday? The normal advice for traveling during GW applies now more than ever: plan ahead. Transportation and tourist areas can become very crowded, and travel agencies have been advertising deals since at least January meaning some people are booked and ready to go already.
Like I said, book early. Try looking for hotels on Jalan or Rakuten Travel, popular booking sites available in English. Airbnb is still a good option; recent changes in the law severely reduced the number of listings, but the ones that are left are usually nice places at a good price.
For the journey to your destination of choice, trains can get you almost anywhere in Japan. Try searching for shinkansen + hotel combination deals. Again, book trains early and get a reserved seat if possible, unless you don’t mind risking standing the whole ride in the unreserved car.
A free pass can save you some cash and hassle too; these are available for areas like Hakone where almost all transportation in the area is free with one ticket for a flat fee. Highway buses are a cheap alternative too, though getting stuck in a traffic jam of holiday travelers could cost you a few extra hours of travel time.
Adjust your schedule
10 days is more than enough, maybe even too much time for a trip. Try vacationing for only a portion of GW to avoid the heaviest travel days. For example, you could leave on Monday and come back Thursday or Friday. This will give you a few relaxing days at home too, to catch up on chores or TV or Z’s.
Get creative with destinations
Japan isn’t only Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nara. To avoid crowds, try going to less popular areas. Minami-boso in Chiba has great beaches on the Pacific Ocean where you can surf, swim, or SUP. Minakami in Gunma is up in the mountains where you can go canyoning or river rafting. Fukuoka is a small burgeoning tech city on the total opposite side of Japan from Tokyo. Tohoku is a huge area where you could sip sake or meet Nyango Star, rock star drummer cat from an apple producing town in Aomori. Why not try one of these more unique excursions?
Maybe you can’t decide where to go, or don’t want to spend the yen. A staycation is a great option too. Get to know the area where you live better by visiting some local festivals or events, going to a park you always walk by but never enter, or exploring some unfamiliar streets where you could stumble upon a new favorite restaurant.
Whatever you decide to do for Golden Week this year, make the decision sooner rather than later. And most of all, enjoy the time off!